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The Las Vegas Grand Prix: The Good, The Bad, and The Could’ve Been Better

Written by Meghana Sree, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri

The inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix kicked off on Friday, with all the pomp and splendour expected of the Entertainment Capital of the World, only to be marred by dramatic practice sessions that upset the mood of fans and teams alike.

Image Credits: Clive Mason - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

Following the cancellation of first free practice due to a loose manhole cover, Williams’ Team Principal James Vowels aphoristically stated: “Judge us by what happens when the chequered flag falls on Saturday, rather than what just happened in the last half an hour.”

Indeed, there is much to evaluate, because, contrary to the general doubts and pessimism going into the third American race of the season, the Las Vegas Grand Prix proved to be one of the most exciting races we’ve had all year.

A Rusty Start

The Las Vegas Grand Prix was made out to be doomed long back, even before the commencement of the race weekend. The event attracted criticism and complaints from Vegas locals, whose roads and landmarks were being transformed to make way for this new track, temporary grandstands, and paddock facilities.

Blocked roads, changed routes, business losses, uprooted trees, and pedestrian bridges covered up with plastic to restrict others from viewing the race, were just a few of the problems cropping up in the weeks preceding F1’s arrival to Vegas. Street tracks can often become a nuisance to locals, and in venues such as Monaco, the locals have simply become used to these changes, after a few years.

Image Credits: Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images

However, with this being the first ever large-scale racing event on the famous streets of Vegas, it’s understandable to hear people having a harder time coming to terms with the huge upheavals made to their city.

Lewis Hamilton acknowledged these issues and stated: “We've got to make sure people are taken care of. We can't be a circus that shows up that's all glitz and glamour and people are affected negatively by it, in my opinion.

This glitz and glamour made up a colossal part of another issue many fans complained about — the show. By now, it’s become somewhat of a norm for all the American races to have that extra ounce of pizazz. Even so, the festivities and flourish witnessed during the Las Vegas Grand Prix were certainly worthy of putting the other races to shame.

However, it must be recognised that F1 is a sport, first and foremost, and from this standpoint, the showbiz attached to the weekend was heavily disliked by most.

In the thick of all this pessimism, World Champion Max Verstappen was perhaps one of the harshest critics. After the opening ceremony, he remarked: “For me, you can skip this. We are just standing up there, looking like a clown.” He also went on to say the weekend was “99 % show and 1% sporting event.”

Image Credits: ANP via Getty Images

Nevertheless, it should be conceded that a certain degree of flair and fanfare won’t hurt the racing action. As many drivers have already stated, F1 must find a balance between sport and show during the American events, in order to keep both the organisation and fans happy.

The drama surrounding the weekend escalated when the management’s negligence of track defects led to the first practice session being suspended, after just nine minutes of running. A loose manhole cover decimated much of Carlos Sainz’s SF-23, causing a renewed uproar of backlash.

Being a street circuit, such issues are to be expected, such as George Russell’s run-in with a loose drain cover in Baku four years ago, or Jenson Button’s incident in 2016 at Monaco, due to an inspection hatch. The very fact that this is a problem that can be anticipated, and therefore avoided, added fuel to the fiery comments addressed towards the organisers.

Just when people thought things couldn’t get any worse, it was announced that an extended FP2 session would commence after much delays, at 2:30 am local time, and people who had paid for tickets would not be allowed to attend. Fans were kicked out of the grandstands and threatened with trespass if they continued to stay.

In sum, single-day ticket holders were treated to under ten minutes of action, and would not be getting a refund. Instead, they were offered a measly $200 voucher for the Grand Prix’s official merchandise store. In retaliation, those affected have filed a class-action lawsuit, seeking at least $30,000 in damages. It remains to be seen what becomes of this situation, and if justice is served.

The Turnaround

Despite the exhaustive list of everything that went south for Sin City’s first F1 race, Sunday became the saving grace of the occasion. Even before the race start, the qualifying session just 21 hours prior seemed to lift spirits.

Charles Leclerc clinched the first pole position of the Las Vegas Grand Prix in its current form, after dominating throughout the weekend. Sainz finished close behind, setting up for a Ferrari front-row lock-out, if only it weren’t for the damaging grid penalty after repairing the damages caused on Friday (another source of drama and criticism from fans and drivers alike).

As the race loomed nearer, expectations and anticipation rose. Regardless of the weekend’s scrappy start, everyone was buzzing to witness some of the best cars and drivers in the world race down the iconic Las Vegas Strip, zipping past the unmistakable landmarks of the city.

Image Credits: Will Lester/MediaNews Group/Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, via Getty Images

From the very get-go, the race was action-filled and exciting. A chaotic start saw damage for cars at the back, while up front, Verstappen forced Leclerc off the track, for which he received a five-second time penalty. A Virtual Safety Car was deployed to clear debris.

Just when we returned to green flag racing, a nasty crash from Lando Norris called for a full Safety Car. On Lap 24, a second Safety Car was brought out after a tussle between Verstappen and Russell, which saw another five-second time penalty being handed out, this time to the Mercedes driver.

As the final laps were being counted, it looked set to be a Red Bull 1-2, with Leclerc hanging behind Sergio Perez. However, a stunning late lunge from Leclerc on Perez down the inside of Turn 14 saw the Ferrari driver claim his second runners-up finish of the season. This move sealed fans’ rising positive judgement of the race, with many claiming it to be one of the best of the season.

The Grand Prix saw a total of 82 overtakes, ranking second after Zandvoort, as the race with the most overtakes this season. In addition to the on-track action, the pits also delivered, with McLaren’s second sub-two-second pitstop of the season, as well as speedy repairs from Red Bull, Alfa Romeo, and Aston Martin.

With Leclerc, Verstappen, and Perez all challenging for the win, fans were treated to a thrilling three-way fight for the victory in Vegas.

Image Credits: Kym Illman/Getty Images

Moreover, the track itself has proven to be conducive for great racing, dispelling any doubts regarding its layout. The track is only second to Spa-Francorchamps in terms of length, and has long straights as well as low to medium-speed corners that aided overtaking.

The adrenaline was further amped up in light of this being one of the fastest races on the calendar, with cars reaching speeds comparable to those at Monza, the famed Temple of Speed.

On the business side of things, this Grand Prix was clearly beneficial to F1 and the teams, not just for revenue, but also in terms of attracting new fans to the sport. The event ties into Liberty Media’s vision of cementing Formula One into American culture, and if it helps increase Formula One’s ever-growing fanbase, it must be appreciated for allowing others to experience the joys and thrill of this sport.

Looking to the Future

Speaking of the F1 fan community, what good is having a race weekend that true fans won’t be able to afford? This was the case at the third American Grand Prix, where average three-day ticket prices were estimated to be $1667, the highest of any race this year. Unsurprisingly, it also boasts the highest base ticket prices in F1 history.

Drivers expressed their concern regarding this, with Leclerc stating:

I hope that Formula 1 is working around that because for sure there’s been many events now that are just incredibly expensive. Also like real fans that really love the sport cannot even afford to get to the races and actually watch the races. So this is definitely an issue that has to be tackled.”

Daniel Ricciardo also stated: “[...] I guess I don’t like to hear ‘we would have loved to come, but we just simply couldn’t afford it’ – that’s obviously a little bit tough.

Image Credits: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

Another aspect that could be reconsidered and improved next time out is the schedule of the sessions. This Grand Prix was hosted at one of the latest local timings ever, with the extended second practice session running till 3:30 am local time. The late timings were slated as a compromise to European audiences too, according to Las Vegas Grand Prix CEO Renee Wilm.

Here, it’s worth mentioning that one of the main reasons F1 is racing in America thrice, that too in Las Vegas, is to cater to more Americans. However, the late session timings proved inconvenient for most Americans, many complaining about not being able to watch a race in their own country, due to the race starting at late in the night, in different time zones across the country.

As drivers, teams, and personnel battled with jetlag, another issue raised was the placement of the Las Vegas Grand Prix on the calendar right before the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, which is 12 hours ahead of Nevada.

Verstappen once again commented:

“It's already a 12-hour difference, but we basically live in the Japan time zone here in Vegas because we have a different schedule. [...] It's very tiring and then we have to do it at the end of a long season, it just doesn't make much sense in my eyes."

Aside from the jetlag, sustainability should also be taken into account, with this double-header not doing any favours to F1’s commitment to becoming Net Zero Carbon by 2030.

Image Credits: Clive Mason - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

A lot remains to be re-examined and developed with regards to the Las Vegas Grand Prix, and perhaps once all the concerns are ironed out, support series can start racing amidst the glitz and glamour of Vegas too.

Regardless of one’s apprehensions coming into the Vegas weekend, any F1 enthusiast would agree that this Grand Prix was an exhilarating race, filled to the brim with racing action.

With a ten-year contract on the cards, and a new permanent paddock, F1’s intentions are clear — they want to hit the jackpot with Las Vegas and make it stick for the long run. A rollercoaster of emotions during the first of their expected many years in the city shows that there is still room to improve, and it can only go upwards from here on.

What are your thoughts on the Las Vegas Grand Prix? What did you like and what didn’t work out for you? Let us know in the comments below!


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